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ENERGY

How to save money on your energy bills in France

Gas prices in France have increased by 44 percent since January 2020 and electricity is also set to become more expensive. Here are our tips for cutting down on costs as we head into the colder months.

How to save money on your energy bills in France
Switching electricity provider could save you money. Photo: GUILLAUME SOUVANT / AFP.

Gas and electricity bills have been rising in France as prices increase.

According to a report from the French National Energy Poverty Observatory published earlier this year, 18 percent of households faced difficulties paying their energy bills in 2020, and rising prices linked to global markets are likely to make the situation even worse.

As temperatures begin to grow colder, here are a few ways you could reduce your energy bills.

Shop around

The CRE sets the regulated prices of electricity, which are regularly updated, and this is the price you’ll pay if you go with EDF’s “Tarif Bleu”.

But since the energy market was opened up to competition in 2007, you may be able to save money by choosing a different type of contract, or by switching to another provider altogether. If you do choose a competitor, you can either pay a fixed price, which won’t change over a period of between one and three years, or a price that is indexed to the regulated tariff, meaning it will evolve at the same rate.

READ ALSO France’s one-off €100 energy grant for low-income households

The same principle applies to gas: Engie’s regulated prices are set by the CRE and can change every month, but you also have the option of taking out a subscription at a fixed or indexed market price, with Engie or any other provider.

It’s important however to make sure you read the fine print when taking out a contract. As consumer group UFC-Que Choisir warns, if a company promises a 10 percent or more price reduction, this usually “concerns only the pre-tax kilowatt-hour (kWh) price. The subscription is charged at the same price as the regulated tariff.”

UFC-Que Choisir’s simulator allows you to compare prices between different energy providers to see whether you would be better off with the regulated tariff or following market prices.

Pay attention to the clock

Even if you choose to go with the regulated electricity prices, you could still save money by subscribing to the “off-peak option”, which means paying less when you use appliances during eight set hours in the day, but paying more the rest of the time. Those hours could cover the whole night, or some of them may be placed in the middle of the day, depending on your town.

If you go with this option, there are a few things you can do to make sure it’s worth your while. Large appliances like washing machines can be programmed to come on at night or during the day, and this is also the best time to charge your devices, as long as they stop charging once full. You can also check that your boiler is set to come on during off-peak hours.

You might be surprised by the results: according to EDF’s “Blue tariff”, the standard price is €15.58 to €16.05 per kWh, but you would pay €13.06 off peak and €18.21 during peak times if you use this calculation method.

If on the other hand you are working from home more often due to the pandemic, you could find that your peak-hour electricity use has shot up and you are better off switching to a regular contract.

Don’t leave appliances on standby

Appliances like your TV, microwave and coffee machine use less electricity on standby than they once did, but turning these machines off completely could still shave 10 percent off your bill, before counting heating costs, according to the French Agency for ecological transition (Ademe).

Using a multi-socket adapter with a switch will make it easier to get into the habit of turning off several appliances at once. This includes your internet router: according to Ademe, a router that’s on 24/7 can consume more than 200 kWh per year, as much as a washing machine.

READ ALSO France to bring in new environmental rules on log burners and open fires

Choose your appliances carefully

When it comes time to replace your washing machine, or invest in a new TV for example, you could make significant savings by picking the right model. More energy-efficient appliances might mean spending more money to begin with, but over the life cycle of the machines this could save you up to €3,000 in electricity, according to Ademe.

An energy-efficient fridge-freezer will consume 125 kWh per year, compared to 245 kWh for a less efficient machine. The savings are even more stark for tumble dryers – 170 kWh instead of 560 kWh.

For most appliances, the energy rating goes from A to G, with A being the most efficient. New European rules introduced on March 1st got rid of the A+ to A+++ ratings for most types of appliance, meaning the A is much harder to achieve, and “most energy efficient products currently on the market will typically now be labelled as ‘B’, ‘C’ or ‘D’.”

“Every difference in category represents 15 to 20 percent energy savings,” writes Ademe.

Image: European Commission

Cut down on heating

Opening the windows in the morning to ventilate the house, even in the winter, will make your home less humid, meaning it requires less energy to heat.

At night, if your windows have shutters as well as curtains, close them both to keep out the cold air, and when it gets really cold you may also want to close the shutters when you leave the house.

READ ALSO How to access France’s €20k property renovation grants

You can also invest in a programmable thermostat which can be set to come on at particular times in the day, and will automatically adjust to changes in temperature. The thermostat itself will cost €60 to €250, and you could receive a €150 grant to cover up to half of the installation costs. According to Ademe, the investment could save you up to 15 percent in heating costs.

Of course, there are plenty of other ways to save energy every day, including replacing your halogen lights with LED bulbs, using the “Eco” programme on your washing machine, and setting your water heater to between 55C and 60C.

Check whether you are eligible for help

Depending on your income levels, you may also be able to get help from the government towards your energy bills. Around 5.8 million households benefit from the chèques énergie (energy checks) scheme, an annual payment of between €48 and €277 which helps low-income households with their gas and electricity bills. You don’t need to do anything – the check should be sent out automatically based on your annual tax declaration. You can find out whether you qualify here.

This year, in response to rising energy prices, the government announced it would send out an additional €100 to households which already qualify for the energy checks. This should also arrive automatically via the post some time in December.

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PROPERTY

New French State aid to help older people make home improvements

A new accessibility scheme recently announced by the French government gives grants for home improvements such as installing a stair lift or widening a doorframe to allow wheelchair access - here is how you could benefit.

New French State aid to help older people make home improvements

According to a recent survey in France, the vast majority of retired people expressed a desire to stay in their homes long-term, rather than entering a care facility.

While there are several schemes by the French government to provide assistance for renovating homes in order to make them more accessible for elderly people, the newly announced “MaPrimeAdapt” seeks to streamline the process.

When was it announced?

MaPrimeAdapt was part of President Emmanuel Macron’s re-election campaign, with plans for it first announced by the president last November.

Most recently, the government aid was earmarked to receive funding in the upcoming 2023 budget, which also hopes to increase the number of nursing home employees, as well as boost public funding for care centres.

The budget is set to allocate €35 million to the National Housing Agency (ANAH) in 2023. In response, the ministry of housing said to Capital France that one of their top priorities is “a single aid for the adaptation of housing to ageing” that would replace several existing government subsidies.

What is the goal of Ma Prime Adapt?

Similar to Ma Prime Renov, this programme hopes to provide additional funding for home refurbishment.

But while Ma Prime Renov focuses on environmentally friendly home adaptations, Ma Prime Adapt aims to make it simpler for older people or those with disabilities to refurbish their homes in order to maintain their autonomy and avoid falls.  

The French government also aims to reduce the number of fatal or disabling falls of people aged 65 by at least 20 percent by 2024, and by 2032, the goal is for at least 680,000 homes to be adapted, particularly those of low-income older people.

Who can benefit?

According to reporting by Le Monde, this aid is not solely reserved for people who already have decreased mobility. 

Instead, it is intended for older people generally. When applying, the applicant must be able to demonstrate that they are an independent retiree and need (this could be based on income, age, health, etc) to adapt their housing in order to make it more accessible.

The amount of assistance offered will be means-tested based on financial status.

What types of work would qualify?

Some examples of work that might qualify for assistance might be:

  • adapting the bathroom (for example, adding grab bars or enlarging the door)
  • replacing the bathtub with a shower
  • installing a bathtub with a door
  • installing a stair lift
  • adding access ramps to the home

The benefit is not limited to those options – any project that aims to increase home accessibility for a senior could qualify, as long as it is not simply aesthetic-focused.

Can it be combined with Ma Prime Renov?

They have different criteria, but Ma Prime Renov and Ma Prime Adapt can be combined in order to provide maximum support to elderly people wishing to adapt and stay in their homes.

How can I apply?

In order to apply, you will be required to meet the conditions stated above, in addition to being able to demonstrate that the housing in question is at least 15 years old and that the amount of work being done would cost at least €1,500.

Keep in mind that the renovation will need to be carried out by a recognised building company or contractor – specifically one with the label “RGE.”

You will be able  toapply for the Ma Prime Adapt aid via France’s National Housing Agency (ANAH). A dedicated website will be created to facilitate the process, with a launch date TBC. 

On the site, you will submit an application form that includes the estimates of the work planned. According to Le Monde, €5,600 will be the maximum amount of aid to be offered, and the cost of work will be capped at €8,000. However, this information has not yet been published by the National Housing Agency. 

What have the other available schemes been?

Currently, retirees in France can apply for the “Habiter facile” scheme from the ANAH (Agence Nationale de l’Habitat), which also helps to finance work that promotes the ability of elderly people to remain in their homes.

“Bien vieillir chez soi” is a similar aid scheme which is offered by the CNAV (social security).

The elderly and disabled can also benefit from tax credits on accessibility or home adaptation work. 

These will likely be replaced by Ma Prime Adapt, which will combine all benefits into one package.

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